Last week brought the sad news for sports fans that Nick ‘Honey Badger’ Cummins, a talented rugby union player with Perth’s Western Force, and who has represented Australia internationally, is leaving the country to play in Japan. He has achieved fame and a huge following not only for his exceptional football skills, but for the quote-worthiness of his post-match interviews and comments to the media. As a result of his way with words he has been dubbed ‘the world’s most Australian man’, and has a Facebook page dedicated to his quotes. He has a creative turn of phrase and an engaging larrikin personality, but just how Australian is his language? As a tribute to the Honey Badger the Australian National Dictionary Centre is putting his words to the test. We identify the dinkum dialect in a selection of his quotes below – will he pass or fail the test?
There are a number of Australian English words, commonly used by and familiar to most Australians, that have shifted their meaning, or had different meanings, over time. Some of these different meanings are subtle, while others are more significant, but the history of the word tells us something about changes in Australian society and attitudes. Many current speakers of Australian English might be unaware of these earlier and alternative meanings of these words, several of which are discussed below.
A caption from the Adelaide ‘Mail’, 18th February 1933, via Trove digitised newspapers (National Library of Australia)
by the ANDC team
The Oxford Word of the Month is written by members of the Australian National Dictionary Centre and published each month by Oxford University Press Australia. Each Word of the Month looks at an Australian word or term in some detail, providing a history of the term and its role in current Australian society. If you wish to receive Word of the Month by email you can subscribe at the Oxford University Press Australia website.
Our Word of the Month for April is ‘sparrow ticket’: a means of gaining admission to, or viewing, an event such as a sporting match without paying for a ticket. A term that was quite common in the first half of the 20th century but is rarely found in written records today. You can read the full Word of the Month in PDF form on our website or read it in an online format.
Union membership cards were obtained from the dwindling band of ‘West’ trade union officials. Votes were then cast in the names of absent union members, living or dead. If this precaution failed, the ballot box was, if the opportunity arose, ‘stuffed’ as Sugar Renfrey termed it. This entailed the addition of as many more ‘bodger’ votes as possible. (Power Without Glory, p. 383)
One of Australia’s most controversial literary figures is Frank Hardy (1917-1994). Hardy was a left-wing novelist, writer, and political activist, and is probably best known today as the author of Power Without Glory, published in 1950. Although a novel, this book is a thinly-veiled account of the life of John Wren, a Melbourne businessman who wielded considerable political influence in Victoria for many years. Hardy was famously sued for criminal libel over the publication, but was acquitted. In writing about politics – the quote above makes use of the Australian term bodger, meaning ‘fake, false, worthless’ – he drew on a rich vein of colloquial Australian speech to inject his radical politics with what he considered an authentic Australian working-class spirit. Continue reading →
Over the years the names of many individual people have added colour to the Australian English vocabulary. The technical term for words deriving from people’s names is eponym (from the Greek epi ‘upon’ + onoma ‘name’). Eponymous people in Australian English include Anna Pavlova (ballerina), Barry Crocker (actor and singer), Baron Lamington (Governor of Queensland ), Ned Kelly (bushranger), Dame Nellie Melba (singer), Dorothy Dix (journalist), Sylvanus Bowser (inventor), Maria ‘Granny’ Smith (gardener), Reginald Grundy (television producer), and Harold Holt (Prime Minister) to name a few.* One of the more recent names we can add to this list is former Australian Olympian Steven Bradbury.
The Spring Racing Carnival is upon us again. It’s the time of the year when we dust off the fascinator, order the chicken and champagne lunch, and get out the form guide. The roses are blooming at Flemington, the TAB has been urging the punters amongst us to place our bets ahead of Cup Day to avoid the queues, and most of us will be taking part in the office sweep for the race that stops a nation. Continue reading →
The Olympic Games provide dictionary-makers with an excellent chance for word-gathering. Every four years those of us who enjoy the spectacle are entertained and educated by the current crop of sporting terms used by commentators, journalists, and athletes. Some words we only seem to hear during an Olympic year: chef de mission, for example, a fancy title for ‘team manager’. And once again the verb to medal is making people hot under the collar. Nobody, it seems, likes the verbing of nouns. But it’s time to get over this one. It was first recorded in the US in 1966 and came to prominence in the Barcelona Games of 1992. Continue reading →
Fanny Durack & Mina Wylie, Australia's first female Olympians (1912). Image source: State Library of New South Wales
by Mark Gwynn
The Games of the XXX Olympiad will see more than 180 women representing Australia in London over the next fortnight. The history of Australian women’s participation in the Olympic Games is a hundred years old, and has been marked by success, triumph, and the emergence of the Australian term golden girl – a female Olympic champion.